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September 7, 2008


Our Family Tree:  Adam and Eve

Genesis 2-3


            Today, we begin a new series entitled Our Family Tree.  Over the next several weeks, we are going to study the people we encounter in the book of Genesis.  We will begin by considering our forbearers, Adam and Eve. 

Both my Great-Uncle Hugh, a brother to my grandfather, and I were very interested in genealogy, our family history.  My grandfather gave each of us the same warning, “Just don’t dig around in the past.  You will uncover some information you do not want to know.  You’ll probably find some relatives who were horse thieves back then.” 

Neither my Great-Uncle Hugh nor I heeded that warning.  We continued to delve into our history so that we could learn about our ancestors.  At one point, we actually made a trip to Tennessee, the state where my grandfather was born.  We spent half a day in the archives.  There, I found an interesting document that informed me that my great-great grandfather had been awarded a payment from the government of the United States.  The Union army had marched by his farm and confiscated his mules, a cow, and a pig, as well as a cooking stove, a bushel of corn, and a bit of wheat.  They left him with nothing.  He filed a claim trying to get payment for the items the Union army had taken from him, after the war, of course.  The government did a thorough investigation and decided to pay him the grand total of $49 for all that the army had taken. 

During the discussion with my great-great grandfather, the government tried to determine whether he was a sympathizer with the Confederate states or with the Union states.  They decided that he was actually a sympathizer with the Confederacy.  He was never able to serve as a Confederate soldier, though, because he was cross-eyed.  He could not see straight and could not shoot straight.  He could not hit the broad side of a barn with a rifle.  The government officials debated whether they should pay him and finally decided to do so because his brother, John Jay Neely, actually became a spy for the Union army. 

            After uncovering this bit of information in the Tennessee archives, I showed it to my Great-Uncle Hugh.  I must say I was a little disappointed to find that we had a Union spy in our background.  Uncle Hugh put his head in his hands and almost sobbed, “Ed (my grandfather) always told me not to search our past.  He told me I would find a horse thief, but this is much worse than that.”

            Delving into your family history can be dangerous, but that is exactly what we are going to do in this series of sermons. 

In Genesis, we read that people, humankind, all of us, were created in the image of God.  No distinction is made between the sexes.  Being created in the image of God puzzles many of us.  A book by Marc Gellman entitled Does God Have a Big Toe? deals with the meaning of being created in the image of God as if this similarity applies to physical traits.  Other places in the Scripture refer to God as a spirit.  We are not looking here for a physical likeness to the divine. 

God has given us gifts when He created us in His image.  First, we have the ability to be creative, very much like the Creator.  We have the gift of language, which enables us to develop and enrich relationships with others and to develop a relationship with God.  Third, we have the ability to reason, to think.  God gives us these gifts for a purpose: He wants us to assume responsibility on His behalf.  We also have the responsibility of multiplying, populating the earth.  Our responsibility to have dominion over the earth simply means that we must be good stewards of all that God has created.  We must use the gifts He has given us to fulfill those responsibilities. 

Chapter 2 shows God still at work in at least two ways.  We see God as a potter, working with clay.  It is an image we find throughout the Bible.  God takes the earth, molding it and shaping it, and then breathes into it the breath of life.  The word for earth in Hebrew is adama.  The name Adam certainly comes from that word.  Some have said that the name Adam, which means “from the dust of the earth” or “from the earth itself,” may have been better chosen.  Maybe a more appropriate name for Adam would have been Clod or Dirt Clod.  Perhaps a derivative of Clod would be Claude.  It does not matter whether Adam was named Dirty Harry or Desert Pete.  He is created from the dust of the earth by the hand of God.  God breathed into him the breath of life. 

The second image we see of God is as a gardener.  He planted a lush, beautiful garden, something very dear to my heart. One of God’s purposes in creating Adam was that he would be the caretaker of that garden.  Even before sin came into the world, Adam had work to do.  Work was not the result of Adam’s sin.  Work was a part of God’s plan from the very beginning. 

God plants in the Garden of Eden two trees of great importance.  The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represent two choices, two possibilities for the future.  They represent life and death.  The Tree of Life has the ability to give enduring life to those who ate of its fruit.  It was sort of a foretaste, I suppose we could say, of life eternal.  It is so interesting to me that Adam and Eve never chose to eat the fruit of that tree.  Instead, they chose to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  In Hebrew, the word for knowledge is yada.  When people say, “Yada, yada, yada,” they are basically saying, “everything you already know about it” or “all that you could possibly know about it.”  There is no mistake about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  God had told them, “If you eat of this tree, you will surely die.”  They knew from the beginning that the consequences of making choice would lead to death. 

Though the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was unnamed, many have assumed it was an apple.  That theory, which comes long after the story of the Garden of Eden, has some historical credence.  Others have suggested that perhaps the fruit was a cluster of grapes.  The truth is that its type does not matter.  Regardless of the kind of fruit, it was forbidden. 

The Garden of Eden did not experience rain.  It is amazing to realize that rain did not come to the earth until the time of Noah.  The garden was watered by a sort of natural irrigation system.  Six rivers are actually mentioned in this story, but we know nothing about four of them.  The two rivers we know very well are the Tigris and the Euphrates.  Some geographers and archeologists have tried to identify dry river beds by looking at satellite images of the area where the Garden of Eden was possibly located.  We know that the Garden of Eden was in what is now modern-day Iraq.  It is hard to imagine that the garden was somewhere near Baghdad.  It seems to have been at one tip of the Fertile Crescent, which arched between the Tigris and the Euphrates down to the land of Canaan.  This area is called the Cradle of Civilization. 

Why did God create Adam?  Once He created Adam and planted the garden, He realized that creation was incomplete.  He had certainly created Adam so that he could be a gardener, but God had something else in mind.  Scripture says that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).  As the Scripture unfolds, we see that it was not good for God to be alone either.  Part of the reason He created man was because He wanted a companion.  The old catechism says that the first obligation of humankind is to live for God and to enjoy Him forever. 

Once Adam was created, God knew that something was still missing.  The Bible offers a wonderful account about how God created a menagerie of animals so that Adam could have a companion.  I have tried to imagine Adam naming all the animals as they paraded by him.  I do not know the Hebrew words for the animals; but if Adam had spoken English, surely the animals at the front of the line had names that were only three letters long:  rat, cat, dog, pig.  Then as the line got a little longer, Adam created names like horse and mouse.  About the middle of the line, he was choosing names like aardvark, mongoose, and elephant.  By the time he reached the end, he was about out of names.  Using as many letters of the alphabet as possible, he came up with rhinoceros and hippopotamus.  Surprise of surprises when the parade is completed!  Not one of them was found to be a suitable companion for Adam, not even man’s best friend, the dog.  None was suitable, so God devised another plan. 

 A little girl telling this story said, “God made the man, Adam.  Then God thought for a minute and said, ‘I think I can do better than that.’”  He did do better than that when He created woman.  Acting as the first anesthesiologist, God put Adam to sleep.  Acting as the first surgeon, God took a rib from Adam’s side and fashioned it into a woman.  Most translations of the Scripture say that when Adam woke up and saw what God had done, he was very pleased and said, “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” 

Men, just let me tell you not to write that quote in an anniversary card.  Do not write it in a Valentine’s Day card or in a birthday card.  It does not have the right ring to it.  It just does not sound very romantic. 

According to the Living Bible, when Adam woke up and saw Eve for the first time, he said, “This is it!”  That is exactly the kind of emotion he must have had.  Before his eyes was this creature God had made, this woman designed to be his companion.  Adam must have thought, “This is a pretty good deal.  You give up a rib and get a wife.”

The Bible tells us that God created woman with the intention that they would become one flesh.  So often people read into that wording a kind of sexual connotation.  The Scripture means that they complete each other, that man and woman are intended to be together in heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Another way of thinking about the wording is to think of them as being mirror images of each other.  They are not the same, but they are so similar.  In their unity, they achieve what God intended when He created humankind.

God had a wonderful idea in His original plan.  You will notice in Genesis 1:27, that He created humankind Imago Dei, in His image, male and female.  Now in Genesis, He created this woman from Adam’s side.  Maybe at weddings you have heard a poem that says that God did not create the woman from Adam’s head so that he would rule over her.  God did not create the woman from his feet so that she would be beneath him.  God created the woman from man’s side so that they would be companions, so that they would stand side-by-side.  That message comes from a very ancient Jewish Midrash.  It is exactly the way this Scripture is intended to be interpreted.  This man and this woman becoming one flesh have the equality that God intended from the very beginning.

Chapter 3 opens with tension that gets ratcheted up very quickly.  A serpent lives in this garden.  Scriptures do not identify this serpent as Satan, but we know immediately that this rascal is up to no good.  We all know that the father of lies is Satan.  In Verse 3, the serpent tells the flat-out lie, “If you eat of the fruit of this tree, you will not die.”  You notice that Eve was not afraid of the serpent when she encountered it.  It must have been a beautiful creature at first.  Eve listened to the tempter and began to analyze, reasoning and thinking about what the offer.  The fruit seemed to be good for food; maybe it had good nutrition.  It was also delightful to the eye. 

Have you ever watched a person choose a cantaloupe at a market?  This week I watched as a shopper selected one to purchase.  Nobody ever buys the first cantaloupe they pick up from the display.  They usually check out several before deciding on the one they want.  They pick up the cantaloupe and handle it, feeling how firm it is.  They find where the stem was and smell that spot.  Even with all of this analysis, you can never know if a cantaloupe is good until you cut it open and taste it. 

Eve did the same.  Though she knew the fruit was forbidden by God, she picked the fruit that seemed good and delightful to the eye and tasted it.  In that moment, she crossed the line.  This wonderful scene of man and woman in paradise now turns tragic.  Eve believed the tempter’s words, “Just taste it.  One little taste will not hurt it.”

Many people experience the same temptation.  Every person who is an alcoholic started on that long, downward spiral in the same way.  Every person addicted to marijuana started that journey of addiction in the same way, as did people addicted to cocaine.  Others prompt them, “Just taste it.” 

Then Eve gave some of the fruit to her mate.  Some say that Adam dared not refuse the fruit, that he would rather disappoint God than disappoint Eve and leave her alone in the guilt.  Adam had very little to say about eating the prohibited fruit until God confronted him during His walk in the garden in the cool of the day.  God called out to this man and woman, and they were ashamed of their nakedness. When God questioned Adam, “Did you eat of the fruit that I told you not to eat?” Adam responded, “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit.”  God turned to Eve, and she also placed the responsibility on another as well, saying, “The serpent you made tempted me.”  It is as if they were blaming the whole episode on God. 

All have sinned and all will be punished.  God punished the disobedience of all parties involved.  He punished the serpent by forcing it to crawl on its belly in the dirt.  God punished woman by making her afraid of the serpent and by making her endure pain in childbirth.  God punished Adam by forcing him work the soil with its thorns and thistles in order to have food.  What started out as a grand plan ended up in tragedy.  They had chosen not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life, and their expulsion from the garden kept them from returning to that tree.  In fact, God set up a barrier consisting of cherubim and a flaming sword to prevent them from returning to the garden.  God cast them out into a land east of Eden.  Scripture later calls the location the land of Nod, denoting a land of wandering, a land in which life itself was pretty much aimless. 

I wish the story of our forbearers had turned out better.  I want my ancestors to have a better reputation than this.  We see in Adam and Eve the kind of lives we live.  We, too, are created in the image of God with creativity, the ability for relationships and language, and the ability to reason.  God has given us these good gifts because He wants us to assume responsibility, which is in itself a blessing.  We, too, are tempted.  Everybody is tempted to be disobedient, to do what God has told us not to do.  We have a rebellious spirit.  Even Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are tempted, but he was without sin. 

We ask ourselves, Why do things God’s way?  Why not distrust His plan and devise our own plan?  Perhaps the greatest temptation in Eden was the temptation of pride.  The serpent informs the pair, “If you eat this fruit, you will know as much as God knows.”  How dare we put ourselves at the same level of God?  They sinned, just as we all do.  “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Regardless of our sin, the God who created us, the God who created Adam and Eve, is always with us.  He never forsakes us.  He never leaves us.  He certainly might be disappointed in us, but He never abandons us. 

We see reflections of this story throughout the New Testament.  The name Eve, or Eva in its Latin form, means “life” or “living.”  Eva becomes the New Testaments’ Ava, Ava Maria, the life-giving mother of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.  The New Testament calls Jesus “the new Adam.”  Jesus himself assumes the role now of being the one who represents the new creation. 

An old Christian legend says that Adam was buried on a mountain shaped like a skull.  There was a place called Golgotha, the story goes.  The two trees in our story today, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, were replaced by a third tree, a tree having the shape of a cross.  From that cross, the blood of Jesus, the second Adam, was shed.  His blood drops on the grave of Adam.  It is as if God is saying that Jesus has come to redeem all humankind, all the children of Adam, all of us.  “Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail; Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end! Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend.”


© Kirk H. Neely

September 2008


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